Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD Patient Handout


About Your Diagnosis
More than 15 million Americans have asthma, most with an onset before 20 years of age. A layer of smooth muscle surrounds the airways inside your lungs. Inflammation of the airways and smooth muscle constriction make the airways much smaller in individuals with asthma. Individuals with asthma are much more sensitive to certain triggers. Smoke, allergens, exercise, cold air, and infection are some of the common triggers. Your physician can diagnose asthma by evaluating your symptoms, performing a thorough physical examination, and ordering pulmonary function tests, blood tests, skin tests, and sensitivity tests. Pulmonary function tests look at how well you are breathing and how reactive your airways are. Skin tests may help to identify some of the substances that aggravate your asthma. Asthma is not curable, but the medications help control the symptoms. Certain cases have a progressive worsening that may lead to serious attacks and even death.

Living With Your Diagnosis
The symptoms of asthma include a sudden shortness of breath that is caused by a specific trigger. Patients with adult-onset asthma may not have a specific trigger that causes an attack. Other symptoms include wheezing and a dry or productive cough. The disease can cause significant changes in lifestyle. Patients should avoid excessive exercise, stress, cold air, smoking, and their identified triggers. Symptoms are often worse at night and may cause disturbances in sleeping. Be sure to carry your inhalers with you at all times because attacks are often unpredictable. Furthermore, you will have to regularly visit your physician to monitor your asthma.

Your physician will prescribe certain drugs depending on the severity of your asthma. Many of these drugs will be inhalers. An acute bronchodilating inhaler will provide immediate relief of most asthma attacks. Inhaled steroids offer more long-term effects but do not relieve an attack immediately. All puffers prescribed to you must be inhaled properly to take full effect. Your physician will show you the correct technique. Antihistamines are used to control pollen-induced asthma. If your case is severe, your physician will prescribe oral steroids, oxygen therapy, or other medications. Continual asthma research has led to the development of several new drugs that may or may not be appropriate for you. Discuss these options with your physician. A peak flow meter should be used daily to track your progress. Make sure you record these values and bring them to your doctor appointments. Most of the drugs have minimal side effects. Inhaled steroids may cause mouth infections after prolonged use. Oral steroids can cause weight gain, increased infections, and several other side effects. Drugs that can induce an attack include aspirin and Alka Seltzer.

The DOs
• Carry your inhalers at all times.
• Avoid all known triggers.
• Use the peak flow meter regularly.
• Get a yearly flu shot and a pneumococcal vaccine.
• Discuss the need for a written action plan with your doctor.

The DON’Ts
• Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
• Try to avoid cold air.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If your medications do not control your asthma adequately or you are in the low yellow or red zone.
• If you experience a severe attack that your prescriptions cannot relieve.
• If your peak flow readings are continually decreasing.
• If you begin feeling increasingly tired.